Emergency Medicine: Avoid Heatstroke By Following These Tips
With California in the grips of a dangerous, record-breaking heat wave, Sam Torbati, MD, co-chair and medical director of the Ruth and Harry Roman Emergency Department at Cedars-Sinai, says a little awareness goes a long way toward preventing heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
“Prevention is key,” Torbati said. “Once a heat-related illness gets out of control, it can be very difficult to treat and the mortality rate can be more than 50 percent for patients with heatstroke.”
Heat-related illnesses run the spectrum from a heat-related skin rash, and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, Torbati said. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body temperature rises and patients develop nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness and become faint. Heatstroke is when the body’s temperature exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit resulting in neurologic dysfunction, such as confusion, coma, seilzures, stroke and additional organ failure.
Those most at risk are young children and senior citizens, and those with chronic illness whose bodies lack the ability to perspire. “Children under four don’t have the ability to sweat enough and without perspiration, your body heat doesn’t evaporate away heat,” Torbati said. “The elderly have similar problems.”
Seniors are especially vulnerable if they have chronic health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure or if they are on certain medications – such as diuretics, antihistamines, beta blockers and some anti-psychotic medications -- that can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate body temperature.
Someone who begins to display symptoms of heat exhaustion -- including dizziness, weakness, confusion and high temperature -- should immediately try to cool down and drink water to hydrate the body.
“Get out of the heat and into air conditioning, take a cold shower, make sure you hydrate,” Torbati said. “If someone is getting confused and lethargic, especially high-risk patients, that’s when you need to head to the nearest Emergency Department.”
But in the coming days, Torbati hopes people will head to Los Angeles’ air-conditioned theaters, museums and libraries.
“We Californians are used to being outside in the summer, running, hiking, rock climbing, playing volleyball on the beach,” Torbati said. “But during this heatwave, avoid outdoor sports and try something different like reading a book in an air conditioned room.”